A perspective from Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley

Parole decision mishandled

Written June 6th, 2013 by
The state seal in the Capitol.

The state seal in the Capitol.

The Oregon Board of Parole caved under outside pressure and canceled the June 7 release date of Sidney Dean Porter. The way this was handled leaves a bad taste.

Now 53, Porter killed a police officer in John Day in the early hours of April 8, 1992. The officer, Frank L. Ward, had gone to Porter’s house on a complaint of loud music. The drunken Porter overpowered him and beat him to death, according to the police. Porter says the officer died when his head hit a wood stove.

Porter pleaded guilty to aggravated murder and was sentenced to life. This winter the parole board held hearings and agreed he had served enough time. This caused several prosecutors, police officials and politicians to complain. One of the objectors was Rep. Sherrie Sprenger of Scio, who was a Grant County deputy in the 1980s and knew of Porter then.

First the board said it had carefully considered the case and stood by its decision. But then Governor Kitzhaber leaned on the board, and it canceled the parole.

The critics all complained that the parole board didn’t have enough information. It would seem, though, that if it had several hearings, it had more information than most of the critics.

Killing a man in a drunken rage is not the same as a calculated murder for personal gain, and if a man has served 21 years in prison without further complaint, it’s not unreasonable to believe he has earned parole. To grant it and then snatch it away — that’s a crime in itself. (hh)

Shelly Garrett responded on June 6:  Can see where you’re coming from. The guy was at his home (a man’s castle) with the expectancy that he can do pretty much what he wants to. His actions from the point at which the officer arrived are the part step away from any rights he had, drunk or not, he took a life. The fact that he didn’t plan it doesn’t apply in my opinion; consider the reason for the murder.  Although clearly influenced by a local legislator, I don’t think the decision is wrong. I think what bugs you is that it WAS influenced that way. She has skin in this game because she was a friend of the officer. It was her right to jump in… If she wasn’t a state rep, would this have left that taste in your mouth?  Don’t think so. I get where you’re coming from, but I don’t think it’s something to be outraged about. The officer is dead and his family lost him forever. That’s unforgivable.

My response: No, what bugged me about this is that now and then I try to put myself in the shoes of someone in prison for many years. I cannot imagine a punishment worse than that, especially if it’s imposed for an essentially impulsive, unpremeditated act. Then, finally, the authorities dangle freedom in front of a guy, and then they yank it away. That’s not how government ought to act. (hh)

Sam Suklis responded on June 6: I’ve always felt that a parole board should be required to take anyone they let go into one of their own homes, to live there for a period of one year upon release, as assurance to the public that they really believe it’s safe to let him/her go.

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